Inside the Capitol

Friday, July 08, 2005

7-11 WSMR

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- White Sands Missile Range is celebrating a World War II-related 60th anniversary this year also.
On July 9, 1945, the Army opened what was then White Sands Proving Grounds. Since then the name has been changed to White Sands Missile Range.
But before that, its name was Alamogordo Bombing Range. And if you ask former White Sands ranchers, they will tell you that 1942 was the beginning of the missile range. That was when they were chased off their land and told that the inconvenience was only temporary until the war ended.
In 1945, the ranchers were told the Army had found another use for the ranches and their temporary displacement would continue. Finally, in 1975, they were told the displacement would be permanent.
They received a token compensation and have been fighting ever since for a fair amount. Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman have introduced corrective legislation in Congress. And still there has been no relief.
Anyway, happy birthday WSMR, whether it is for your birth as a bombing range or your reincarnation as a missile range three years later. The change in American thinking during those three years is amazing.
In 1942, rocketry was considered science fiction. The Army knew it would never work for military purposes even though a guy just down the road in Roswell had been telling them since 1930 that they were missing a bet.
The Army ignored Dr. Robert Goddard and his rocket experiments in Roswell. It would not give him a nickel for research even though great minds such as Charles Lindbergh lobbied hard.
A decade earlier, the Army had court-martialed Gen. Billy Mitchell for getting too excited about promoting the airplane as a military weapon. Army geniuses knew planes wouldn't work either.
But between 1942 and 1945, Hitler taught us a bitter lesson, terrorizing England with V-2 rockets. So by 1945, we were great believers.
After World War II, we brought Germany's brilliant rocket scientists over here to teach us what Dr. Goddard had been working on since before World War I. Imagine what could have happened had we taken advantage of that head start.
Beginning in 1946, I spent summers in Las Cruces with my four grandparents. I remember sitting on my grandmother Miller's front porch with her, watching Werner von Braun's V-2 rockets appear from behind the Organ mountains, east of Las Cruces, headed straight up and then nosing over in a frenetic arc to the north.
My grandmother would check the Las Cruces Sun-News every morning to see the rocket testing schedule. Since those days, WSMR has spread the word widely about its firing schedule and when US 70 will be closed.
WSMR now has a dial-up announcement of road closing times that many hotels and motels in the area put on their telephone systems to warn travelers of unexpected road closures.
The White Sands Missile Range has come a long way since those early days. The 3,200 square-mile range has been the site of more than 43,000 missile firings.
WSMR now includes bombing ranges, the third-largest solar furnace in the nation, a High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility that tests the effects of a nuclear blast, a space harbor where the space shuttle Columbia landed in 1982, and a simulated third-world village where special forces train.
White Sands remains on the cutting edge of rocket science and has a bright future ahead. The Pentagon's base realignment and closure process recommended last month that one unit be transferred out of New Mexico. That will eliminate 180 jobs, but with employment of around 6,200 workers, the base remains a major factor in southern New Mexico's economy and our nation's defense.
MON, 7-11-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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